Biblical Archaeology Review 19:4, July/August 1993

An Ancient Israelite House in Egypt?

By Hershel Shanks

What may be an ancient Israelite house has been discovered at the one-time Egyptian capital of Thebes, dating to about the same time the Israelites were settling in Canaan (Iron Age I; 1200–1000 B.C.E.).

The house was found by the Austrian archaeologist Manfred Bietak, who is directing a major excavation of Tell el-Dab’a in the eastern Nile Delta. Most scholars believe this site is the Biblical city of Ra’amses, where the Israelites were forced to make bricks for pharaoh (Exodus 1:14). Bietak did not find this Israelite house in his own dig, however, nor did he find it by excavating. He discovered it in a careful study of the report of a dig at Thebes conducted in the 1930s by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. There he found a drawing of the plan of a house that completely differed from adjacent Egyptian houses. In Bietak’s words, “The layout of this building bears no similarity to any of the Egyptian house types in the New Kingdom.” Instead, “The arrangement of the rooms bears … a high degree of similarity to the so-called Iron Age Four-Room house of Palestine.”

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